Kickoff for Toronto FC's visit to D.C. United on Saturday has been pushed back 2 1/2 hours to 6:30 p.m. ET due to expected high temperatures and humidity.
But both teams have already been feeling the heat with Toronto (3-7-2) having lost five straight and D.C. (4-6-1) looking to find its feet after firing coach Hernan Losada six games into the season with just six points to show for it.
The forecast for Saturday at Audi Field calls for 36 Celsius, feeling like 38 degrees, at the original kickoff time, with the mercury dipping slightly to 34 degrees at 6 p.m. and 33 degrees at 7 p.m.
"We're really pleased the time got pushed back," said Toronto president Bill Manning. "We would have preferred it to be even a little bit later, but 6:30 is certainly better than 4 o'clock."
Toronto has lost to New York City FC, FC Cincinnati (twice), Vancouver and Orlando after going unbeaten for four games (3-0-1). The recent 1-0 losses to Vancouver and Orlando came on goals in the 90th and 92nd minute, respectively.
Toronto has recorded three losing streaks of five or more games in the last 12 months after doing so just twice in the club’s first 14 seasons. The slide is the fourth-longest in the club’s MLS history.
The good news is a win could vault Toronto up the congested Eastern Conference standings. D.C. United goes into weekend play in eighth place in the East, five places and two points ahead of Toronto.
D.C. is coming off a 2-0 midweek loss to NYCFC and is winless in three (0-2-1) in all competitions, a run that has seen it outscored 7-2 and shut out by both New York teams. It has lost six of its last nine matches (2-6-1) including a 2-1 defeat at BMO Field on March 19.
D.C. is 2-2-1 in league play since Losada was fired, with former assistant Chad Ashton serving as interim head coach.
Toronto has not won on the road since July 24, 2021, when it downed the Chicago Fire 2-1 at Soldier Field. It has gone 0-10-4 since away from home, taking four of a possible 42 league points on the road.
TFC is 0-4-2 away from home this season.
Both teams have had issues defending set pieces of late. And defence has been an issue all-round for Toronto, which has had to chop and change its backline due to injuries and suspensions.
TFC ranks 27 in the 28-team league, conceding 1.92 goals a game on average. D.C. ranks 20th at 1.55 goals-against per game.
Taxiarchis (Taxi) Fountas may test the Toronto defence. The Greek international forward, who is tied for the club lead with Ola Kamara on five goals, has turned heads since arriving in March from Austria's Rapid Vienna as a designated player.
"He's quick, he finds good spots," said Toronto coach Bob Bradley.
Toronto has gone 19 league games since it posted a shutout, with the last one coming Sept. 25 in a 0-0 draw at Colorado.
Goalkeeper Alex Bono, speaking after last week's loss to Orlando, said the inability to keep a clean sheet was keeping him up at night.
"I live on shutouts, so the fact that we haven't had one in a while is slowly killing me," he said.
But Bradley says morale remains high, with players electing not to take an extra day off to clear their heads after the Orlando defeat but rather to return to training.
"The group's been good," he said. "I think everybody knows that with the number of changes, with some new players, with young guys getting big opportunities, at the beginning the year it was going to be hard work. And that there's got to be a focus on how we can just continue to go from game to game to game, take the good things, build on those, look at things that need to be improved, work on that.
"When you're in this type of situation and you're building a team, what you don't want to do is come in with different ideas every week. So there's a consistency of still how we want to play and what we want to be about. The response of the players has been positive."
"Let's be realistic. We're trying to build a whole new culture here," added defender Shane O'Neill. "It's a whole new team, new coaching staff. I mean it's got to be built from the ground up."
Ashton, for one, believes Toronto is better than its record suggests.
"I think they're a good team, an exciting team with some really nice young players mixed in with some older players that are big-time difference-makers," he said. "They've given themselves a chance in every game they've played this year. I know our game up there was very difficult against them."
Toronto will be without the injured Kadin Chung, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Chris Mavinga and Noble Okello. Jonathan Osorio, Alejandro Pozuelo and Jacob Shaffelburg are listed as questionable.
Osorio and Pozuelo, a former league MVP, have been big losses.
Osorio rejoined the main training group Thursday while Pozuelo and Shaffelburg worked out individually. Bradley said forward Ayo Akinola, who saw 45 minutes action off the bench against Orlando, could start.
The club has been careful with the young forward, who has seen four substitute appearances since returning from knee surgery.
Toronto heads east to play HFX Wanderers in Canadian Championship quarterfinal play on Tuesday before returning home to host Chicago next Saturday.
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2022.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press